I’ve been strength training since October 2012 with Starting Strength and the Power Lifts. I started training bodyweight / calisthenics early 2013 as a supplementary system, and ditched the Powerlifting for Calisthenics full-time in October 2013. That leaves me with two solid years of bodyweight strength under my belt, plus about a half year. It might be a surprise for some, then, to learn that I still suck at Pull-ups.
I’m a heavy guy atm, weighing in at approx 106Kg. I’ve definitely been lighter; when I first started training the gym scales clocked me in at 79kg. Whilst I doubt the accuracy of those scales, I think the mass gain is approximately right if you count the fact I’ve probably added a percent or two of body fat alongside any muscle mass. This isn’t exactly optimal for bodyweight pulling work such as Pull-ups, but I’m feeling stronger and in better shape than I did when I was powerlifting at all.
Coach Wade of Convict Conditioning said that Pull-Ups are the great equaliser; it’s pure relative strength. I think that’s definitely true. I’ve struggled with them for years. I spent an entire year on his gorram Horizontal Pulls, and remember the joy that I felt graduating to Jacknifes. I struggled to perform them at the gym, and my pull bar here at home isn’t quite set up right for them (too close to the wall) so when I quit the gym to focus on training here at home, I needed to find a way to train Pulls. It was about this time I started swapping exercises out for Start Bodyweight and reading up on Al Kavadlo’s approaches.
During 2014 I tried my best to train Pulls. “This year” I told myself. I started doing Negatives, then Half Pulls. I remember trying to Grease the Groove, I remember trying the Armstrong program over the Easter break. I remember having a session where I felt I could finally do Pull-Ups, then the next session feeling that they’d escaped me once again. I realised that I wasn’t getting the full range of motion, and became disheartened again.
Late 2014, when I started my MRes, and into 2015 I admitted to myself that I wasn’t performing full Pull-Ups, but needed to train them somehow. I moved to Negative Chins, and when I managed to get good at those, Negative Pulls proper. I think I graduated to Negative Pulls sometime in March 2015. Since then, I’ve consistently worked my way up to 3x10 reps, then missed a session and instead of picking back up where I left off – moving to 3x5 again. I know why; fear of failure. I fear that I’ve been performing my Negatives wrong this whole time, and graduating will only make it true. This, of course, should all be part and parcel of one’s journey of self-construction through training.
Now, in April of 2016 I see the end of the tunnel for the first time.
My approach to exercise has always been one of a brutish minimalism; coming from a background of Convict Conditioning, Naked Warrior, and the Kavadlo Bros how could it not be? I want the most effective exercises to train my entire body. These also happen to be exercises that I love, but that’s a bonus really. Coach Wade promised this with the Big Six and the Convict Conditioning System. No equipment other than a bar, and optionally a towel. I throw in an old chair to perform negatives off of as well (such a hedonist). That mentality shows whenever I dismiss the need for fancy toys and tools for training – even my training gear consists of a cotton tee, hoodie, and sweat pants in alternating shades of white, black and grey. Oh and some cheapass sandshoes that I get for £7 and replace once a year in September.
Recently growing tired with my lack of overall progress on the Pulling front, I was prompted by a fellow practitioner to invest in one of those elastic assistance bands. That way I could focus on form under a full ROM and gradually move through different band sizes until I was pulling myself up like normal people. I ordered the biggest one that evening, and I’ve had my first session with it this morning.
Fuck me. It’s definitely given me a confidence boost. I actually think that it’s giving me a bit much assistance, since it’s the top-tier band and I cranked out 3x5 without much bother. There are parts of me that are sorer than they’re used to though, so that’s a good thing; and I’m definitely going to need to double-check my form at some point. What’s important for me currently though, is that it’s given me hope that I’ve started on a relatively clear path on the road to mastering the Pull-Up. I can see the path is a bit rocky, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel and I can see where I might slip up instead of just running in place.
This is going to be a good year.